A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.
Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist, playwright, professor (1913-1995) best known for writing The Deptford Trilogy (1970-75).
When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before.
Clifton Fadiman, American editor, literary critic, and essayist (1904-1999). He helped establish the Book-of-the-Month Club and served on its editorial board for 50 years as well as serving on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia Britannica and The Reader’s Club. He was the a book editor at Simon & Schuster and The New Yorker. He was a voracious reader, known to read 80 pages per hour. Ironically, he lost his sight due to illness in the 1980s but continued reading (listening to audio tapes) and writing (through dictation).
Any one of these authors created the face that launched a thousand books — or more precisely thousands of books. More books have been written about the literary works of Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Cervantes, and Dickens (and in that order) than any other author. The characters that these authors created are larger than life, transcending time and place. Since their creation, these fictional characters have influenced and had a lasting impact on mankind. Through Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Goethe’s Faust, or Cervantes’s Don Quixote, or Dicken’s Oliver Twist we gain a better understanding of the human condition and the eternal search for meaning. To paraphrase Hamlet, the great characters of literature are “the mirror held up to nature;” when we look into the eyes of Lear or Cordelia we see something of ourselves, ushering in a more profound self awareness and the willingness to grow as human beings.
For further reading: The Literary Life by Robert Hendrickson, Harcourt Brace (1994). 101 of the Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Alan Lazar, et al, Bristol Park Books (2006).